Nonfiction > Upton Sinclair, ed. > The Cry for Justice

Upton Sinclair, ed. (1878–1968).
The Cry for Justice: An Anthology of the Literature of Social Protest.  1915.
The Annexing of Christianity
(From “The Call of the Carpenter”)

By Bouck White

(American Congregational clergyman, 1874–1951; imprisoned for protesting in a church against the Colorado massacres)
THE ANNEXING process was started by a Roman citizen named Saul. Formerly a Jew, he deserted his nationality and with it his former name, and called himself thereafter Paul. Paul was undeniably sincere. He believed that in reinterpreting the Christian faith so as to make it acceptable to the Romans he was doing that faith a service. His make-up was imperial rather than democratic. Both by birth and training he was unfitted to enter into the working-class consciousness of Galileans. He was in culture a Hellenist, in religion a Pharisee, in citizenship a Roman. From the first strain, Hellenism, he received a bias in the direction of philosophy rather than economics; from the second, his Pharisaism, he received a bias toward aloofness, otherworldliness; and from the third, his Romanism, he received a bias toward political acquiescence and the preservation of the status quo.…  1
  Paul planned to make Christianity the religion of the Roman Empire. It needed a religion badly. The catalogue of its vices, in the forepart of the Epistle to the Romans, is proof. Paul the Roman citizen saw nothing but excellence in Rome’s world-wide empire. Only, it must be redeemed from its laxity of morals. Therefore he would bring to it the Christ as its cleanser and thereby its perpetuator. It was the test of loyal citizenship among the Romans to seek out in every part of the world that which was most rare and valued, and bring it back to Rome as a gift. Thus her sons went forth and returned laden with richest trophies to lay at her feet. They brought to her pearls from India, gold chariots from Babylon, elephants from interior Africa, high-breasted virgins from the Greek isles, Phidian marbles from Athens. Paul also would be a bringer of gifts to the Rome that had honored him and his fathers with the high honor of citizenship. And the gift he would bring and lay at her feet would be the richest of them all—a religion.…  2
  Paul was a stockholder in Rome’s world corporation. And that stock by slow degrees had blinded him to the injustice of a social system in whose dividends he himself shared. This explains in large part why he accepted the political status quo, and preached its acceptance by others. Students of ethics have difficulty in reconciling Aristotle’s defence of human servitude, “slavery is a law of nature which is advantageous and just,” with his insight and logic in other matters. The difficulty resolves itself when it is recalled that Aristotle possessed thirteen slaves, and therefore had exactly thirteen arguments for the righteousness of slavery. Seneca, gifted in other things with fine powers of moral philosophy, saw no monstrousness in Nero that he should rebuke—Seneca was a favorite with Nero, and was using that favoritism to amass an enormous fortune. Paul was too highly educated—using the term in its academic sense—to be at one with the unbookish Galileans, and he was personally too much the gainer from Rome’s empire of privilege to share the insurrectionary spirit of the Son of Mary.…  3
  Paul was under the spell of Rome’s material greatness. His heart was secretly enticed by her triumphal arches, her literature, her palaces on the Palatine, her baths, porticos of philosophy, gymnasia, schools of rhetoric, her athletic games in the arena. He thought of her history, her jurisprudence, her military might, the starry names in her roll of glory, her sweep of empire from the Thames to the Tigris, and from the Rhine to the deserts of Africa; and when, to this summary, came the pleasant reflection that he was a part of this world corporation, one of the privileged few to share in its profits, it was not hard for him to find reasons to justify his desertion of that poverty-stricken and fanatically democratic race of Israel off there in unimportant Palestine.  4
  A true Roman, Paul preaches to the proletariat the duty of political passivity. To the Carpenter, with his splendid worldliness, the premier qualification for character was self-respect, and the alertness and mastery of environment which go with self-respect. But to Paul the primate virtue is submissiveness—“the powers that be!” He sought to cure the seditiousness of the working class by drawing off their gaze to a crown of righteousness reserved in heaven for them—a gaseous felicity beyond the stars. Israel, holding fast to the enrichment of the present life, had kept its religion from getting off into fog lands, by seeking “a city that hath foundations.” But Paul sought to hush all these “worldly” aims; he wooed the toiling masses to desire “a building of God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” He was a true yoke-fellow of Pylades, the Roman play-actor, who, wishing to justify his usefulness to the master class, said to Augustus that “it was for the emperor’s advantage that the people should have their attention fixed on the playhouse rather than on politics.”  5

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